Categorized | Living, People, Travel, Travelogue

Adventures Abroad! Magnificent Morocco

By Missy Pearson
AML Correspondent

On The Way To Tangier

On The Way To Tangier

I don’t think that it is unusual that every student studying abroad has a mental list of the destinations they would most like to visit. For me, the list includes Greece, Italy, Scotland, and one more that might be thought of as a little more off the beaten path. So much off the beaten path, in fact, that it’s not even in Europe. Curious? It’s actually not that far away geographically, at one point it’s only four miles off the Spanish coast…it’s Morocco!

I’m not quite sure where exactly my interest in visiting this Muslim country in Northern Africa came from, but I was already planning a visit there when I was still home this summer. After reading an article in the New York Times Travel section one Sunday in August that focused on Assilah, a recently revitalized town about 40km south of Tangier, I became even more determined. The article had mentioned a home-rental website, www.homelidays.com. So, once I knew the number of people who would be going on this trip (13 was the final count – in fact it was all the Loyola students studying in Leuven), I began to look for a house which could accommodate us all. In the end we settled upon l’Etoile d’Asilah, an absolutely gorgeous five-story home within the medina wall, complete with a rooftop deck which had the most incredible views of the Atlantic about 50 yards away.

Looking Across to Spain from the Strait of Gibraltar

Looking Across to Spain from the Strait of Gibraltar

It’s easy to say that Morocco was the biggest culture shock I have experienced thus far. As a Muslim country where Arabic is spoken, I quickly realized that our Spanish, Dutch, English and French skills weren’t going to be as useful as they had been in other countries. Yet, I think that made the trip even more rewarding as we were forced out of our comfort zones.

We flew into Tangier on a Thursday afternoon and successfully met up with the drivers I had contacted before we had left who drove us to Assilah. Upon reaching the house, Sophia, our housekeeper, welcomed us. She had prepared a traditional dinner of couscous, vegetables and chicken for us. We watched the sun set over the Atlantic that night from the top of the house; it was the perfect start to our long weekend.

On Saturday we headed to Tangier for the day. We first visited the caves of Hercules and from there took a ride on some camels. We followed the road north until we reached Tangier, where we walked around the market inside the Medina. It’s not quite the same as the Strafford Farmer’s Market back home, that’s for sure! It was a little unsettling to walk past the butchers and see whole calves hanging there ready to be made into filets (I think a couple of the girls have since considered becoming vegetarians). At one point I was waiting for some of our group who had fallen a little behind, when a man walked past me carrying half a dozen chickens upside down on a string. I assumed they were dead until they started clucking and flapping their wings. I was definitely not expecting that!

After spending a couple hours bartering over Christmas presents for my parents and getting lost in the maze that is the Tangier market, we drove on further through the port and up into the hills until we reached the most northern point in Tangier. As we stood on this narrow strip of land with cliffs to either side, we could see Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar in one direction; in the other was the Port of Tangier. It was absolutely breathtaking, a view I will not forget for a long time to come.

Missy in Chefchauen

Missy in Chefchauen

Sunday presented us with another adventure, all thanks to Sophia (our adopted mother by this point) and her son, Mohammad. They organized a van to drive us four hours through the mountains to the town of Chefchauen. I must clarify that when I say ‘van’ I mean something that is most likely an old, converted ambulance—seriously! We left Assilah early and headed away from the beaches and up into the mountains of Morocco. The mountains seemed endless; occasionally off in the distance there was snow on the peaks and for miles at a time it seemed like we were the only people. Chefchauen is known for all of its buildings which are painted blue. It’s a beautiful, striking blue, almost periwinkle. We saw women washing their clothing in a stream that flows down from the mountains. And, as we sat eating lunch, we could hear the men at mosque. This was an intriguing, unexpected look at a unique and lovely side of Moroccan life and culture.

Another interesting outing was soon to follow. While I was planning this trip, I had read about a beach about 5km south of Assilah called the Caves of the Doves that is most easily reached by horse cart. So my friends Dan, Megs and I decided to somehow get there. We ventured outside the medina and down towards the beach. We found some men about our age bagging sand and loading it onto carts. We decided to try our luck. Being the only one who had any experience with Spanish (even though I haven’t spoken it since freshman year); I tried to speak to the one guy who spoke Spanish as well. We settled upon a price and he told us to wait and that he would be back in 10 minutes. We waited and some minutes later someone approached me and told us to get on his cart. I mistakenly assumed it was the same cart and off we went. Now imagine this, three students sitting on a flatbed cart that is being pulled by a galloping horse across the unpaved streets of Morocco. The situation was so ridiculous and surreal that I couldn’t help but laugh!

A Sensational Sunset!<br>The beaches of Morocco are considered some of the most breathtaking in the world.

A Sensational Sunset!
The beaches of Morocco are considered some of the most breathtaking in the world.

We headed down the road and soon turned into a field that had a single dirt path that led to the beach. It was at this point that I noticed someone galloping up behind us. I quickly realized that it was the driver we had originally spoken to. He caught up and our cart stopped and the drivers got off and started yelling at each other in Arabic. As we were standing alone in an empty field with the equivalent of about 20 Euros on us, I was scared for the first time. The drivers settled it and we got onto the cart of Braham, the driver we were supposed to go with from the beginning. This ended up being a good thing because Braham was very nice and waited for us as we spent nearly an hour on the beach. As we drove across the field, we got glimpses of the beach that lay at the foot of the cliffs. It was an amazing view as it was by far the largest beach I’ve ever seen and it was nearly deserted. I struggle to put into words how awesome this special part of our Morocco trip was, it was easily one of the most dramatic scenes I have experienced! We walked along the beach, which took a while since it was so long, as the sun set and then headed back on the cart to Assilah.

After putting much effort into organizing the trip, it was so rewarding to have it end up being a great success and a more than memorable experience. I would go back to Morocco in a heartbeat if given the opportunity because I feel there is so much more to see and enjoy. Assilah was the perfect place to relax mid-semester, and I’m glad I was able to experience such varying types of towns and landscape which provided a diverse view of Moroccan culture. I would recommend it to anyone who is planning a trip to this North African gem. What an amazing experience it was for me and my Loyola University classmates; it is certainly one of the highlights of our exciting first semester abroad. And now, we are setting our sites on our next adventure…off to Amsterdam!

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